KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A Kentucky man was convicted Tuesday of murder in the brutal carjacking, rape and murder of a young Tennessee couple who were snatched while they were on a date in 2007.
Letalvis Cobbins, 26, of Lebanon, Ky., is the first of four defendants charged with participating in the attack on Channon Christian, 21, and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, 23. Cobbins admitted taking part, but he denied on the stand last week that he was a killer.
The jury found him guilty of multiple counts of first-degree and felony murder in the death of Christian but opted for lesser charges of facilitating murder in the slaying of Newsom. They also convicted him of rape, kidnapping and robbery, charges that can carry sentences of 15 to 25 years in prison.
Cobbins slightly shook his head no as the jury read guilty verdicts on 33 of the 38 counts. He showed no other emotion. Relatives of the victims wept.
The sequestered jury from Nashville was to begin the sentencing phase Wednesday and consider whether to sentence Cobbins to death.
"I have been saying that we were going to get him and the rest of the animals that he was running with," Gary Christian, Channon's father, said outside the courtroom. "I can't even tell you what all those guilties were, but he raped my daughter and he is responsible for her murder. ... Tomorrow is going to be the nail in his coffin."
"They considered each point and they took their time and I think they did a fine job," said Newsom's mother, Mary Newsom.
Christian, a University of Tennessee student, and Newsom were on a date Jan. 6, 2007, when her sport utility vehicle was carjacked at gunpoint by several people in Knoxville.
The attackers blindfolded and bound the couple and took them to a rundown rental house. Police concluded Newsom was soon taken away, sexually assaulted, shot in the back of the head, set on fire and left beside some railroad tracks.
Christian was beaten and repeatedly raped over the next 24 hours. An autopsy said she died of suffocation after she was choked, wrapped in plastic bags and dumped in a trash can.
Cobbins' brother, Lemaricus Davidson, 28, of Knoxville, has been identified by investigators as the ringleader in the attack. Davidson, Cobbins' friend George Thomas, 26, and girlfriend Vanessa Coleman, 21, both of Lebanon, all are in jail awaiting trial. Another person, Eric Boyd, is serving a federal prison sentence for being an accessory.
Cobbins testified against his attorney's advice, telling the jury he helped with the carjacking. He said Christian asked him to help her the day after the kidnapping, offering oral sex if he would persuade the others to let her go. He said she was tied up and he admitted orally raping her.
But Cobbins said he didn't set Christian free because he was too scared of his brother. He denied killing either victim. Experts testified that Newsom was killed with Davidson's gun and Cobbins said he saw his brother choke Christian.
"I am sorry. I am so sorry," Cobbins testified. "I deserve to be punished for what I did."
Defense attorney Scott Green acknowledged to the jury that Cobbins was a "coward," rapist and liar, but argued that prosecutors "haven't shown you he is a killer."
Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald told jurors that Cobbins changed his story several times and could have driven away or called police but didn't "because he was part of it."
Cobbins began the trial by pleading guilty to lesser counts of facilitating the kidnapping, stealing the SUV and raping Christian. He faces multiple sentences of eight to 12 years on those guilty pleas.
Some conservative Internet commentators and white supremacist agitators accused the national media of reverse discrimination by failing to give the case involving white victims and black suspects the same attention paid to white-on-black hate crimes.
Investigators said the attack wasn't a hate crime, just a carjacking that went terribly wrong. Local media and The Associated Press have covered developments in the case since it began.